Northlane - Alien - (6/10)
Published on August 12, 2019
When I first heard Northlane, I was pleasantly surprised by their very successful blend of metalcore and progressive. If you ask me, the Australian quintet has always had a structural and compositional integrity above the average norm of the genre. I felt that they fitted right in between metalcore acts such as Architects and more elegant progressive bands in the vein of Tesseract. This was what the band had going on until the release of Alien.
The new album steps away from the band’s trademark and embraces a far more electronic sound. This new direction was slightly visible on the previous album “Mesmer”, which in my opinion was less heavy and complex than the first three, but I could not have predicted such a radical shift. Alien sounds very fuzzy and computerized. Everything from the bass and drums to the vocals is over processed and showered in effects, up to the extent where the metal elements in this album end up taking a secondary role. It reminds me of Muse a lot. They have this typical structure of verses based on bass and drums, with the guitars kicking in only on choruses and bridges. The songs are also a lot simpler and predictable in structure, and the progressive influences are mostly a vague memory. The strange thing is, while obviously shallower on a creative level, the choice in sound actually creates an atmosphere and makes the album more expressive. Needless to say that the new direction will cause a lot of stir in the fan base.
The vocals are still a strong point of the band on “Alien”. The cathartic and dramatic screaming that Marcus can churn out, alongside the clean singing is as good as it’s ever been, and it’s the main aspect that still allows this album to give me some energy and adrenaline. There are still a few scattered prog stuff here & there (bridge in Details Matter, outro to Eclipse) and some heavier songs like “Talking Heads”, “Jinn” and “Vultures”. These are all nice, but I crave more riffing and heavy stuff that I know this band is really good at that. On the polar opposite side, the song Rift and almost all of the closer “Sleepless” are full on electronic.
Another first time for the band on this record is the lyrical topic. For the first time in their discography, Northlane went for a very personal concept, focusing singer Marcus’ childhood and troubled family situation. This may very well have been the key factor to lead the radical change in sound. The need for catharsis on the band’s side definitely played out in a very specific vision for the atmosphere of the record and I admire their bold decision, despite the highly predictable controversial response. It’s a unique album that stays on a gray area between very different genres, and it’s born from a healthy decision on the band’s side. For me that counts big. I think it’s what makes the electronic vibe feel somewhat dramatic and emotionally draining instead of just simply stale, thus giving it a sense of life. Let’s conclude that I don’t like the new direction, but I admire the decision and I won’t disregard “Alien” just yet. Maybe this album leads to further experimenting in the band’s future, which I would gladly like to see, but for now I’m disappointed.